The Green Dam in Algeria as a tool to combat desertification

SAIFI, Merdasa, BOULGHOBRA, Nouara and FATTOUM, Lakhdaria

a Division of desertification monitoring, Centre for Scientific and Technical Research on Arid Regions, Biskra, Algeria, e-mail:

Abstract — Desertification is a major risk that threatens the arid and semi arid regions throughout the globe. With continued population growth, desertification exacerbates while natural areas regress as a result of rapid urbanization, increase of cultivated land areas, overgrazing, and deforestation. This adds to the effects of climate change. Algeria as many countries is not safe from this risk. Indeed, agronomists and ecologists report that Alfa grass cover has reduced while the quality of the grasslands itself is becoming increasingly degraded. To tackle this serious risk, the Algerian authorities developed the Green Dam project as a massive reforestation program aiming to safeguard and to develop of the pre-Saharan areas.

Keywords — Desertification risk, Green Dam in Algeria

1 Introduction

According to the UNCCD, the recurring droughts and human activities, mainly overgrazing are the two main driving factors of desertification (Le Houérou, 1996). It is widely recognized that desertification is a serious threat to arid and semiarid environments which cover 40% of the global land surface and are populated by approximately 1 billion humans (Verón, Paruelo, & Oesterheld, 2006). Of the 238 million hectares that make the total land area of Algeria, 200 million are natural deserts, 20 million represent the steppe regions threatened by desertification, and 12 million are mountainous areas threatened by water erosion. The sensitivity map of desertification shows that 7 million hectares of the 20 steppe regions are highly susceptible to desertification and require a short-term intervention. Several natural factors like, decrease in rainfall, high thermal amplitude, dry winds, combined with anthropogenic factors like, cultivation, mechanization, overgrazing, deforestation, accelerate desertification process. In face of such risk, the Algerian state initiated the reforestation activities since independence in 1962.

2 The Green Dam

The Green Dam initiative became clearer in the 60s with the rapid degradation of Alfa grass steppe that resulted from overgrazing and cultivation activities.

Figure 1: Localization of the Green Dam.
Figure 2: Green Dam reforestation with Aleppo pine in the locality of El Hamel.

The implementation of this vast project started in early 70’s and extends from the western to the eastern borders of Algeria, the scope of action of the Green Dam consists of the pre-Saharan area between isohyets 300 millimeters in the North and 200 millimeters to the South (Bensaid, 2005) (Figure 1, 2), covering an area of 1500 km by 20 km on the average, or 3 million hectares.

2.1 The role of Green Dam

The main objective of the Green Dam is to combat desertification. After a few years of implementation, the program turned into a big multi-sector project, including:

  • The protection and enhancement of existing forest resources
  • The recovery of missing forest stand
  • Reforestation
  • The development of agricultural and pastoral land
  • The fight against sand encroachment and for dune fixation
  • Resource mobilization in surface and groundwater
  • The improvement of accessibility to desertification prone areas.

2.2 Main steps of Realization

The program of Green Dam has experienced four distinct stages:

  • From 1970 to 1982, soil restoration and protection Groups (SRPG) were formed and assigned to the military regions in a way to cover the entire area of the Green Dam. Thus between 1970 and 1979, seven (07) Groups of the National Service (GNS) were formed. Following an evaluation of the GNS between 1979 and 1982 that aimed to address the problems pertaining to the forestry sector, groups of forestry (GF) were formed within the GNS. During that period emphasis was put on reforestation and infrastructures, the reforestation were carried out by the Aleppo pine.
  • From 1982 to 1990, an inter-ministerial agreement brought the project owner (ex: State Secretary of Forests) and the project implementer (High Commission of National Service) to cooperate, with clear separate roles, pertaining of the organization, control, financing and protection of the forest heritage. After an evaluation of the achievements of this period, gaps were gradually overcome and improvements were made, by the diversification of restoration activities (opening tracks, protection against soil erosion) and species (Cypress, Acacia, Atriplex).
  • From 1990 to 1993 the Department of Defense withdrew from the Green Dam project, leaving the totality of its implementation to the National Forestry Agency.
  • From 1994 to 2000 the Government revived the Green Dam project with the launching in November 1994 of a new program.

2.3 Achievements

The major achievements were attained with reforestation activities, by Aleppo pine in sensitive areas:

  • The rehabilitation of some 300000 ha of degraded forest areas of the Saharan Atlas;
  • The protection of villages and socio-economic infrastructures against silting through dune fixation and the planting of greenbelts over some 5000 ha;
  • Management of pastoral plantations, totaling 25000 ha, to increase feed availability;
  • The protection of populations by establishing monitoring networks over 5000 km;
  • The establishment of 90 water sources to improve potable water availability for the populations.

These achievements have been strengthened by the rural development programs which objectives are to protect natural resources and to improve the livelihood of the local people.

2.4 National Action Plan and multi-institutional cooperation

The National Action Plan (NAP) against desertification which describes the main institutional arrangements for the implementation of the various management and restoration programs was validated on 14/12/2003;.The NAP comprises the following twelve (12) actions (DGF, 2004):

Table 1: Actions of the NAP
Action Links with national programs

Poverty alleviation and livelihood improvement

National Water Program
National Agricultural Development Program
National Action Program for Environment and Sustainable Development
Fight against silting National Action Program for Environment and Sustainable Development
Soil erosion control National Reforestation Program
National Agricultural Development Program
National Water Program
Fight against deforestation National Reforestation Program
National Agricultural Development Program

Land protection and conservation

National Action Program for Environment and Sustainable Development
National Reforestation Program
National Agricultural Development Program
National Water Program
Watershed protection and sustainable development of mountain National Action Program for Environment and Sustainable Development
National Reforestation Program
National Agricultural Development Program
Grassland management and mitigation of drought m effects National Agricultural Development Program
Capacity building in natural resource protection and in improving access to water National Water Program
National Agricultural Development Program
Support for Research and Technological Development Centre for Scientific and Technical Research in the Dry Areas
Monitoring System and drought warning National Meteorology Office
Algerian Space Agency
National Agency of Water resources
Development of a participatory approach Local and national associations

NAP actions are part of the general policy of the Planning. They concern three sensitive ecosystems, including (1) steppes (rangelands) where most of the rehabilitation activities take place under the responsibility of the High Commission for the Development of steppe, (2) mountains which management is the specialty of the Forest Conservation Service, and (3) Sahara where emphasis is put on biological diversity issues.

Several scientific works have been done and published (Mostephaoui et al 2013, Salemkour et al 2013, Kherief Nacereddine et al 2013), demonstrating the importance of National Research Program (NRP 34) in the whole system. About 34 research projects have enabled us to achieve important results in the fight against desertification. These include steppe ecosystem models and monitoring and evaluation software.

Several research projects are being conducted by local universities and research centers on the risks of desertification and silting, with some focusing on evaluating the Green Dam.

3 Conclusion

Despite the achievements and the continued implementation of the Green Dam project with respect to the protection of the ecosystem, the rest of the territory under threat remains large. This would necessitate more efforts with more emphasis on restoration activities. The participation of local populations in development programs should be a key to successful project implementation. Algerian authorities are knowledgeable as programs are developed and implemented, and the laws are enacted accordingly. Despite all of these important efforts and experience, the magnitude of the phenomenon remains a big challenge. Therefore, appropriate management strategies of the risk of desertification and silting should continue to be researched and implemented. For a successful implementation of this type of projects we would recommend the following measures:

  • To increase the participation of local populations in the decisions making processes, particularly when the use and management of fragile ecosystems are concerned.
  • To increase awareness on the values of biodiversity and on its global significance in arid and semi-arid areas as in accordance to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • To strengthen inter-institutional partnership on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
  • To increase partnerships between institutions in southern Algeria and strengthen their ability to develop and implement successful programs on the protection of biodiversity.


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Saifi, M., Boulghobra, N. and Fattoum, L. (2015): The Green Dam in Algeria as a tool to combat desertification. In: Planet@Risk, 3(1): 68-71, Davos: Global Risk Forum GRF Davos.